Clyde Lee McCoy (December 29, 1903 – June 11, 1990), was an American jazz trumpeter whose popularity spanned seven decades. He is best remembered for his theme song, "Sugar Blues", written by Clarence Williams and Lucy Fletcher, and also as a co-founder of Down Beat magazine in 1935. The song hit in 1931 and 1935, in Columbia and Decca versions, and returned to Billboard magazine's Country (Hillbilly) chart in 1941. It was also played with vocals, by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Fats Waller and Ella Fitzgerald.
Johnny Mercer had a vocal hit in 1947. McCoy was a member of one of the families of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, and was based at various times in Los Angeles, New York City, and at Chicago's Drake Hotel, where he first performed "Sugar Blues" in 1930. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6426 Hollywood Boulevard.
McCoy had begun mastering the trumpet when he was without formal instruction, after the McCoy family moved to Portsmouth, Ohio in 1912. This would lead him to perform regularly at church and school affairs. He was to perform on the Cincinnati riverboats five years later, plying the Mississippi River, and would also perform on the side-wheelers the Island Queen and the Bernard McSwain, becoming one of the youngest musicians on the river at age 14.
McCoy was informed in 1920 by a musical associate about an opening for a small band at a popular resort location in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was originally planned to be a two-week gig. The band boarded a train for Knoxville with a group who had never played together as a unit. The band rehearsed in the train's smoker, en route to the Whittle Springs Hotel and Spa. When the band arrived in Knoxville, owner George Whittle agreed to audition Clyde's "Chicago Orchestra" and approved of their performance, as well the patrons. The Clyde McCoy Orchestra would be officially launched after the gig lasted for 2 months.
McCoy performed his song "Sugar Blues" at the Drake Hotel in Chicago in 1930. Clyde's solo rendition of the song would draw enthusiastic approval from the patrons at the Drake Hotel, and provided national broadcast exposure for the band on the radio. This would also help Clyde be signed to a recording contract with Columbia Records, and the song was recorded on January 22, 1931. It was an instant retail success and continued to enjoy successful sales over the years. The song sold in excess of fourteen million copies internationally by the time of Clyde's retirement in 1985.
The Clyde McCoy Orchestra had a long and successful run at the Drake Hotel before beginning a year-long engagement at Terrace Gardens in Chicago. The band was featured in a Balaban and Katz vaudeville production, before beginning a two-year second engagement Chicago. In mid-1935 Clyde signed a five-year recording contract with Decca Records.
McCoy had been experimenting for nearly ten years with the "wah-wah" trumpet mute. He used it when performing the song "Sugar Blues" and many of the songs in his band's library of arrangements. It was so popular that he licensed the King Instrument Company to manufacture and market the device.
McCoy developed the signature "wah-wah" sound in the late 1920s by fluttering a Harmon mute in the bell of his trumpet. In 1967, a similar effect was made for electric guitar with the introduction of the Vox Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah Pedal (Clyde's name was only used for promotion and Clyde had nothing to do with the use or development of the pedal), the most significant guitar effect of its time. The Wah-wah pedal was invented by a young engineer named Brad Plunkett, who worked for the Thomas Organ Company, Vox/JMI's U.S. counterpart. The wah circuit basically sprang from the 3-position midrange voicing function used on the Vox Super Beatle amplifier.